By: Paul McGuire
Red94 has discussed the new-look Rockets a great deal over the past few days, including this excellent podcast by Rahat and Forrest. But tonight, the Rockets looked more like last year’s team than the new variation which has surprised the league this season. Harden, Howard, and another wing carried the Rockets for most of the game and scored practically all of Houston’s points. But after giving the game away late in the fourth quarter, the Rockets failed to execute down the stretch and lost an eminently winnable game despite some last-minute heroics.
And now I am thinking of 0.9 again. Wonderful.
Rahat has mentioned elsewhere and in tonight’s tweets that he believes the Rockets need a secondary shot creator. My perspective is that Houston’s problem is less that of shot creation and more the simple problem of shooting the ball. Creating an open shot does not mean anything if the open man cannot do anything with said shot. And tonight, no one outside of Brewer( who went absolutely bonkers with 25 points and just could not miss) and to a lesser degree Motiejunas could do anything with the opportunities which Harden and Howard created.
Ariza, Terry, and Beverley went 2-17 from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Ariza’s only made 3-pointer occurred when this game was really out of reach. All three of them got wide open opportunities throughout tonight’s game, but were unable to actually hit their shots. Meanwhile, Danny Green, Diaw, and the Spurs got their opportunities courtesy of the Popovich system and did capitalize. It should however be noted in that Green’s case, we did see a return tonight of the old Harden “Pay attention to the ball and not my man” lack of defense.
Shooting at the line is also a problem. As great as Howard was at the rim, he was just 2-7 from the line. But he was not the worst problem. Late in the third quarter, when Houston seemed to be gaining some momentum, the Spurs promptly began hacking Joey Dorsey, who has hit a grand total of 5 free throws for less than 20 percent this season. It was clever. Houston was unable to take Dorsey out because he would be at the foul line, and Dorsey went 1-4 during that stretch. Might other teams follow Popovich’s example over the next few games?
As for Josh Smith? While Smith did not perform nearly as well as against the Grizzlies, you will once again not be able to understand how he played by glancing at the boxscore. Smith was not looking to score for himself. He attempted one 3-pointer, but it might have gone in had Dwight not been called for offensive goaltending. Instead, he focused more on passing and defense, the latter where he was the victim of some questionable calls. I am not sure what to make of his passing game, to tell the truth. Smith has real talent there, though he also forced quite a few passes across his court which contributed to Houston’s 24 turnover tonight. What unnerved me is that Smith’s game tonight reminded me of Terrence Williams – another athletic forward who could pass but tried passes which were out of his league. Smith is not THAT stupid; But while he played much than what the boxscore suggests, it was still not a good game.
Tonight was not the worst loss of the season. However, it was probably the most disconcerting. At the end of the day, the Rockets were facing a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker and which has matched up poorly against the Rockets in the past. This should have been a win, just like how Houston should have defeated Portland last year. As much as the acquisitions of Brewer and even Smith will help this team, the Rockets are not favorites to make the Finals this year, much less win a championship ( to me, the Thunder remain the favorites despite their struggles this season). McHale and possibly Morey have work to do if this team wants to be playing in June.